After barely escaping with a win against Georgia Tech Monday night, the Vols looked to Saturday's game against Indiana State as a much-needed tuneup.
It's definitely safe to say that the Sycamores were the perfect opponent for the opportunity to get things right.
UT started off red hot after running back Ty Chandler returned the opening kickoff 91-yards for the first touchdown of the game. It seems that whomever the Vols use as a returner has always had success. Kudos to the entire special teams staff for creating one of the best units in the country.
Ty Chandler's opening kickoff return for a TD was the 11th return TD for the Vols in the Butch Jones era— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) September 9, 2017
Hello, Ty Chandler. pic.twitter.com/yw5badEoHd— FOX Sports Knoxville (@FOXSportsKnox) September 9, 2017
The Sycamores and the Vols would trade three and outs on the next two following possessions. Indiana State runs a very interesting offense. They use a lot of pre-snap motion involving every position on that side of the ball.
But it seems to create a lot of confusion and extra prep time, as evidenced by the multiple pre-snap penalties garnered by the Sycamores on top of the fact that they burned all three timeouts by midway through the second quarter.
It didn't matter what Indiana State did though because at one point in the first half the Vols had outgained them by 236 - 99 total yards. The final total was 236 - 123 yards gained at the end of the second quarter.
Quinten Dormady looked so much better in the first half of this game than he did last week, completing 10/12 passes for 123 yards and 1 TD.
A couple looks at that perfectly thrown TD pass from Dormady to Johnson: pic.twitter.com/RE6FPKnXhv— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) September 9, 2017
But let's also remember who the competition is here.
Nevertheless, Dormady was excellent - and so was the rest of the offense. The offensive line gave Dormady plenty of time and opened multiple holes for the backs - especially Carlin Fils-Aime, who ran for two touchdowns in the first half.
John Kelly was also an offensive catalyst, recording 13 touches for 91 total yards. Fils-Aime had 41 yards in the first half.
Tennessee's defense looked like a completely different unit as well. They kept the Sycamores from crossing midfield until about five minutes into the second quarter, allowed zero points, and zero third down conversions in the first half.
But the biggest story of the first half had to be the difference in offensive efficiency between Dormady and backup quarterback Jarrett Guarantano.
Guarantano came in on the third drive of the first half and didn't do much at all. Granted, the offensive line didn't play particularly well when he was in and there was a big drop by receiver Jeff George, and the biggest highlight while Guarantano played was a 30-yard touchdown run by Fils-Aime.
Carlin Fils-Aime has 3 carries, and 2 have gone for TDs. This one goes for 30 yards: pic.twitter.com/s7DGdmM6GJ— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) September 9, 2017
The first turnover of the game came in the third quarter when defensive lineman Rex Mosley stripped the ball out of Dormady's hand as he was looking for an open receiver.
It was easily Indiana State's best field position of the game and they were able to capitalize on a 23-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Cade Sparks to tight end Jacquet McClendon to bring the Sycamores within only three scores, 28-7.
Tennessee was on their way to another touchdown on the following drive until Dormady tried to force a throw to Brandon Johnson in the endzone that was intercepted by defensive back Rondell Green and brought out to the three yard line.
With plenty of time left in the third quarter, the Sycamores all of a sudden had an opportunity to make this a game.
But Tennessee's defense was too much. A quick three and out left the Sycamores pinned deep in their own territory and still without a single third down conversion for the entire game.
Even after consecutive turnovers and a lead of 28-7 late in the third quarter, UT's coaching staff decided to leave Dormady in the game. That move alone was enough to show that this is now Dormady's job to lose.
Dormady rewarded that faith from the coaching staff by hooking up with breakout receiver Marquez Callaway for a 37-yard touchdown to make it a 35-7 game.
Callaway again used his great hands and YAC ability to separate from pursuing defenders and walk into the endzone for yet another big score.
Quinten Dormady likes him some Marquez Callaway pic.twitter.com/yebxWzlc9H— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) September 9, 2017
The fourth quarter saw Guarantano take the field again for the Vols. You have to give the young signal caller credit, he is aggressive and is not afraid to take shots down the field. However, that can be both good and bad because he doesn't seem to have a good sense of offensive rhythm nor game flow.
It's a small sample size, but it looks as if he tries to take too many shots down the field - which is great for stretching the defense, but it doesn't really allow you to get a sense of timing with the receivers. It leaves a lot to be desired with the overall concept of the offense as well.
But Guarantano was able to get the Vols into the endzone in the fourth quarter with a beautiful, 11-yard fade to George for the final offensive possession of the game.
Other than the back to back turnovers, Dormady was solid yet again and it seems as if he has the ability to improve week to week. A potential road game in Gainesville (weather pending) next week will be his first true SEC test.
The Vols defense was basically a house cat to the Sycamore's mouse, as they let Indiana State fret back and forth amongst the field before finally shutting them down for good.
Overall, it was a good performance from Tennessee. The real test begins next week, as they head down to Gainesville to take on the Gators. If the Vols offense can keep the momentum and if the defense can stop the run, then the Vols should be in very good shape come next Saturday.
Tennessee finished with 395 total yards, 24 first downs, and went 7/11 on third down. Indiana State finished with 215 total yards and no turnovers,
Players of the Game:
QB, Quinten Dormady - 13/18 for 194 yards, 2 TD 1 INT. Dormady was very solid minus the two turnovers. This is officially his team.
RB, John Kelly - 18 carries for 80 yards, 5 receptions for 60 yards. He didn't get anywhere close to matching last game's touchdown total, but Kelly showed yet again how he is the centerpiece of this offense.
Tennessee Defense - Even though it was against a FCS team, the defense straight-up dominated the Sycamores. They allowed one touchdown, zero third downs, less than 50% completion percentage, and under 100 passing yards. They still managed to allow over 125 rushing yards however, which is concerning.
Indiana State Sycamores:
RB, LeMonte Booker - 15 carries for 76 yards, one reception for 10 yards. Easily the best player of the night for Indiana State, Booker consistently found room and gashed the Vols' defense for 5.1 ypc.
TE, Jacquet McClendon - 5 catches, 63 yards, 1 TD. McClendon had a decent night and scored the team's only points.
- Freshman tight end Eli Wolf hurt his leg on a diving catch and had to be helped off the field. He was last seen on crutches with a boot on his left ankle.
- Senior defensive back Justin Martin had a rough head-on collision with Sycamore running back LeMonte Booker. He was last seen being evaluated on the sidelines.